The ministry of humanitarian affairs is doing its bit to cushion the plight of the needy, writes Danliti Goga

Amid the rising cost of living affecting all Nigerians, the task of providing a humanitarian window for extending some relief to the most vulnerable segments of the population who are least capable of sustainable survival becomes a life-saving necessity. The challenge of clinging onto life that confronts the poorest people daily has become more of an existential crisis than the intermittent cycles of natural disasters like floods and pandemics which actually make a bad situation worse. The need for any humanitarian initiative to have a bi-focal scope that responds to the socio-economic adversity as well as natural disasters cannot be over-emphasized.

The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development adequately captures in its portfolio the broad range of human and natural misfortunes whose amelioration must be prioritized by any responsible government and its performance so far, despite being hastily launched from an uncoordinated array of agencies just over a year ago, gives cause for cheer. Under the focused and humble direction of the Minister, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, much sought after government relief measures have reached thousands of all categories of needy and distressed Nigerians, from jobless school leavers to hapless IDPs and flood victims.

In its latest outreach, the ministry has commenced the federal government’s Rural Women’s Cash Grant, a N20,000 one-off grant to support women, widows and vulnerable families to help them earn a living and support their households. It’s another aspect of the Buhari administration’s social inclusion and poverty reduction agenda with the ambitious target of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years. Compared to other interventions, the cash transfer to mainly rural women across the country is bound to have a more profound impact on lives of a segment of the population of poor people that has for long been out of reach of such a direct government intervention.

After a hectic schedule of working tours of flood-ravaged communities across the country earlier in the year, Minister Sa’adiya Faruk has since busied herself ensuring the launch of the latest initiative in Gombe, Ebonyi and Bauchi States. In Ebonyi State, 200 women from each of the 13 local government areas received N20,000 cash during the flag off and a total of 2,600 rural women are expected to benefit. The emphasis has been on urging the beneficiaries to use the grants judiciously being government effort “to give lifting hands to women, widows and vulnerable persons”, as the minister described it. She drew attention to opportunities for starting up a business or enhancing existing businesses, to help them earn a living and support their households and to generally improve the living standards of vulnerable people in the country, especially women and widows. Excited beneficiaries at the launch events expressed happiness that they were being “remembered” by the federal government as they reeled out various ways of using the grants to generate more income to contribute to the welfare of their families.

Yet another impactful intervention of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development for the distribution of cash and food to vulnerable people in urban hotspots in Abuja, Lagos and Kano was being actualised in partnership with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to cushion COVID-19 effect on the residents. At the launch in Abuja recently, Dr Paul Howe, WFP representative in Nigeria said WFP is contributing one million dollars which would be shared among the vulnerable people and commended the federal government for providing food from the National Strategic Grains Reserve. He disclosed that the WFP planned to reach 67,500 beneficiaries in Abuja Municipal, Bwari and Gwagwalada under the intervention programme which had already reached over 57,000 individuals.

He stated that WFP is supporting the Nigerian government, which is providing cereal food support, in assisting up to 200,000 people through a combination of cash-based transfers and food distributions while also acknowledging the contribution of the government of Switzerland, which is WFP key contributor to the funding of the project, via cash transfer to the beneficiaries, adding that it was the first time WFP is expanding into urban centres in Nigeria to serve people and families affected by hunger and severe food insecurity.

Dr Paul Howe remarked that “COVID-19 has grown beyond a global health crisis into a global ‘food pandemic’ of historical proportions. Over 90 million people or 46 per cent of the population in Nigeria live on less than US$2 per day, the urban poor depending on daily wages have been very hard hit. In communities in Kano, Abuja and Lagos; the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 has hit hard.”

It will be recalled that the federal government had earlier in April disbursed Conditional Cash Transfer to poor households at the Kwali Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja as part of the federal government’s efforts to help reduce the effect of lockdown following the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

In her exemplary pre-occupation with the humanitarian concerns of her ministry, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouk had also attended the virtual EU Inter-Ministerial meeting where she emphasized the need for an integrated approach to the humanitarian issues plaguing the nation. She also met with the Director of Operations and Emergencies at the UN, Jeffery Labovitz where discussions focused on areas of support and collaboration to boost impact of the ministry’s programmes. From all indications the plight of the poor, the distressed and other vulnerable people in Nigeria will continue to get the priority attention it deserves as the minister’s restless quest for delivering succour and “remembering” those who felt forgotten in the scheme of things, continues to yield timely and tangible outcomes.

Her focus and zeal will be of particular relevance in view of the diminishing economic buoyancy confronting the nation with corresponding budgetary implications on government programmes. It is however re-assuring that the minister’s quest for support for its humanitarian programmes has an international scope leveraging on her meritorious career in marshalling resources and diligently executing relief programmes with remarkable team working to restore hope among refugees and vulnerable communities.

Goga wrote from Kano